As hate speech fears grow, Kenya sets 2017 elections date

NAIROBI (Reuters) - A rise in ethnically charged “hate speech” threatens the electoral process in Kenya, but the country still plans to hold the 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections on Aug. 8, the electoral commission said on Thursday.

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The results of the last two presidential elections in Kenya were disputed. In 2007, more than 1,200 people were killed in weeks of ethnic bloodshed. In 2013, voting passed off relatively peacefully, but the outcome was challenged in court.

Kenyan parliament has passed strict laws banning hate speech to prevent a repeat of the 2007 post-election violence, but politicians are often blamed for stirring ethnic animosity in a nation where tribal loyalties trump political ideology.

“Free and fair elections cannot be held in an insecure environment. The commission therefore regrets the growing prevalence of hate speech that is polarizing the country,” Ahmed Issack Hassan, chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), said in a statement.

Hassan, who also announced the date for the vote, urged the security agencies to “move with speed to arrest this potential threat to the electoral process”.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to contest the elections against Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader who has run in the past two elections.

In February and March, Kenya plans to register some 22.4 million people to vote in the 2017 poll, far more than the 14.4 million who registered for the 2013 election.

But Hassan said a funding shortfall threatened the registrations. The IEBC has only received a quarter of the 2 billion shillings ($19.67 million) it requested from the Treasury.

The IEBC was set up after the disputed 2007 vote and initially enjoyed broad public trust, but its reputation was tarnished after the 2013 vote, when it faced setbacks including the collapse of electronic systems aimed at helping stop abuses.

($1 = 101.7000 Kenyan shillings)

Reporting by Drazen Jorgic, editing by Larry King